Review: Wreck-It Ralph / Cert: PG / Director: Rich Moore / Screenplay: Phil Johnson, Jennifer Lee / Starring: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer / Release Date: February 15th 2013
In a similar manner to the childhood playthings in Pixar’s Toy Story, the computer game characters in Wreck-It Ralph come to life while no one else is watching; it's only when the lights are switched off in the arcade game centre that their true personalities are revealed. You see, in the game world of Fix-It Felix, Jr., Ralph may be the bad guy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is a bad guy.
Ralph rampages through the town of Niceville with his freakishly big hands, whilst young Felix gets all the glory by fixing stuff with his golden hammer. After years of not being accepted by the residents of the town, Ralph is sent over the edge when he isn’t invited to the 30th Anniversary party for his game (even Pac-Man gets an invite). Ralph sets out to prove his bad guy status doesn’t define him and goes on the hunt for a golden medal by sneaking into the game Hero’s Duty.
Three different games are explored here – the first, Fix-It Felix, Jr., a mash-up of coin-op classics Donkey Kong and Rampage, with 8-bit graphics; the second, a Halo-style shoot-'em-up that introduces a fierce character programmed with a tragic backstory; and finally Sugar Rush, which is a mash-up of Mario Kart and Willy Wonka’s factory. The decision to continue the story in Sugar Rush after first treating the viewer to these other excellent games – and a behind-the-scenes computer game world full of cameos galore – is one of this movie’s major flaws. This is where the film takes a turn from appealing to gamers, and the fun of the first half is lost as the focus shifts to targeting the younger kids in the audience.
So much attention to detail has gone into the animation in all of the games, it seems a shame not to utilise them a little more, but there's still plenty to enjoy in this sugar-coated world. Each game provides a vibrantly contrasting palette and introduces some fun characters. Much humour comes from the initial set-up, including a Bad-Anon villain support group that Ralph attends along with Dr. Robotnik, Zangief and some classic arcade game villains. And many of the new faces are very winning, such as the lugubrious Sour Bill (voiced by the director), and the mischievous glitch Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), who strikes up a friendship with Ralph. It's this relationship which provides the impetus for the second half of the film, and with it come a message about the importance of being yourself, even if that means not pleasing everybody.
Music is a vital aspect of games, and Henry Jackman's score is well conceived, with each game having a distinct sound. Inclusion of Rihanna’s Shut Up and Drive in a montage scene feels completely out of place, though, and the Wreck-It Ralph theme tune, which is a complete delight, has to wait until the final credits for a proper airing.
Though the storyline wanes towards the second half, shifting gears from fun to formulaic, the many well-crafted visuals, gamer in-jokes and the exceptionally engaging central character (voiced by an extremely well-cast John C. Reilly) make this an enjoyable entertainment for kids. Meanwhile, adults will respond strongly to Wreck-It Ralph's nostalgic appeal, despite the film sometimes feeling like a wasted opportunity.
Expected rating: 9 out of 10